Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ananda naTana prakASam - kEdAram

As yet another week flew by, I still wonder why and how the time went. The pace at which this life is aging is quite concerning and the fact that I can't control or do much about it, though is quite humbling, is making me more anxious. I guess the only way forward is to be on one's toes all the time, live in the present and live every moment to the fullest because though there are still miles to go before I sleep, the miles are disappearing much faster than I would like them to. Given this is the reality, I realize that there are many things that I have to give to this world both personally and professionally and it is my duty to ensure that I don't while away time and focus on spending every minute productively.

As we continue to explore the depths of the pancabhUta linga kritis of the nAdajyOti, we move on to the majestic cidambaram temple for the culmination of the series in the form of the soothing kEdAra rAga singing the praises of Lord Shiva who resides in this temple complex in the form of ether/space. The name of the temple town itself comes from the tamizh word, "cittrambalam" or "cittambalam" literally translating to "the open area of consciousness". The sthala vriksham here are the mangrove trees since essentially this area was a mangrove forest and hence it is also known as tillai (mangrove) natarAja temple or tillai vanam. The temple is also associated with sage vyAgrapAda, the saint with tiger feet (references will be explained while discussing the kriti) and hence called puliyUr in tamizh with the Lord called puliyUran.

The temple itself has multiple great esoteric significances, the explanations of which in itself will demand a separate post from me. The temple is supposed to be located at the lotus heart of universe. The temple has five main ambalams or sabhais -

1. Citt-ambalam: the sanctum sanctorum housing the Lord and his consort sivakAma valli.
2. Pon-ambalam: the golden roofed hall where the rituals are performed and which houses the nishkala space, also referred to as the cidambara rahasyam.
3. nritya-sabhai: the stage where Lord Nataraja is supposed to have outdanced kALi and displayed his supremacy, thereby establishing this temple as the birthplace of nATya.
4. rAja-sabhai: the 1000-pillared hall alluding to the thousand-petal lotus, sahasrAra cakra of yogic significance
5. dEva-sabhai: the hall housing the main deities of the temple including Lord Ganesha, sOmAskanda and gOvindarAja perumAL.

 The temple has nine gopurams or gateways signifying the 9 openings of the human body. The gopurams themselves are breath-taking pieces of art with the east gopuram depicting all the 108 postures of bharatnAtya. I still vividly remember how I was awed when I entered the temple for the first time, overwhelmed by the divine vibrations of the kSEtra and the sheer magnificence of the temple and its construction.

The temple finds mention in all of the significant saivite scriptures and is established as kSEtra where the Lord performed the divine cosmic dance or the Ananda tAndava. The naTarAja tAndava position itself with the Lord lifting his left leg and striking the divine pose has so much of esoteric significance again, some of which are present in the picture that I have uploaded in this post. As I mentioned earlier, I guess it will make sense to have a separate post explaining the greatness of this temple and the folklore of the kSEtra. Will try to do that soon. And of course, dIkshitar reduces that pain a bit by actually composing so many beautiful kritis in this temple, with many brilliant references in this composition itself which will give me a chance to bring all the significant stuff to the forefront. So, I will stop here and jump directly into the composition and will hopefully point out some more crucial points about the kSEtra as the kriti progresses.


Ananda naTana prakASaM citsabhESaM
AsrayAmi SivakAma vallISaM


dIkshitar seeks refuge ("AsrayAmi") in "the consort of Goddess SivakAma valli, the Lord who displays his effulgence ("prakASaM") through His blissful ("Ananda") cosmic dance ("naTana"), the one who is the Lord of the divine citsabha".

The pallavi of this composition possibly rates among the grandest beginning of all of dIkshitar's kritis. And he indeed chooses to start it with the word "Ananda". The composition in itself is pure bliss and brings happiness to the listener's soul. In the first four words itself, he clearly sets the context and establishes the kSEtra with its significance. Lord Shiva's tAndava rUpam is brought forth in its full majesty and just the way that His resplendent dance illuminates crores of universe, this pallavi also shines brilliantly among the universe of compositions out there.

dIkshitar refers to the sanctum sanctorum as citsabha, the hall of consciousness, which is how the garbagriham is featured. He completes the physical description of the main deities by mentioning the consort, Goddess SivakAmavalli. Also, one should carefully observe how dIkshitar uses the same word "ISa" in different contexts in the pallavi itself, first as "Lord" and then as "husband/consort".

The beautiful start is probably best embellished by the deep, resonating voice of shri MD Ramanathan when he opens with the "snpss" in mandira stAyi. This being followed by the "gmpnsnpm" phrase at "naTana prakASaM" is so beautiful that one gets the feeling that kEdAra rAga itself came into existence only for this kriti. It meanders and lends itself just like a well-prepared clay lends itself to the potter. And the potter here, the genius dIkshitar, handles the lilting phrases of the raga with such tender hands that the final pot that shapes up is grand and graceful. And being the skilled potter that he is, dIkshitar chooses to use the cApu tALa for describing the Lord who dances his Ananda tAndava at this much more apt could he get. Moving on to the anupallavi,


bhAnu kOTi kOTi saMkASaM
bhukti mukti prada daharAkASaM
dIna jana saMrakshaNa caNaM
divya patanjali vyAgrapAda-
darSita kuncitAbja caraNam


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the one whose appearance is as resplendent as ("saMkASaM") crores and crores ("kOTi kOTi") of suns ("bhAnu"). The one who is adept in bestowing ("prada") bliss ("bhukti") as well as salvation ("mukti") and the one who is worshipped as the form of daharAkASa, the space within a yogi's heart. The one who is well-known ("caNaM") for protecting ("saMrakshaNa") the weak and down-trodden ("dIna jana")".

dIkshitar then alludes to folklore and describes the Lord as "the one who bent and raised ("kuncita") his lotus-shaped ("Abja") feet ("caraNam") to give the vision ("darSita") of his cosmic dance to the divine ("divya") sages patanjali and vyAgrapAda".

In the anupallavi, dIkshitar brings in reference to the primordial element that the Lord represents at this temple, space. Right beside the main deity in the citsabha, is empty space which is famously referred to as "cidambara rahasyam", for the Lord is known to pervade this space and the space itself has no origin or end and hence it remains a mystery. This space which the Lord pervades and dances in with all His glory is compared to the heart of a staunch yogi/devotee, since that beautiful space is also pervaded by the Lord in all His glory and He dances his resplendent cosmic dance in the heart. This space is called daharAkASa and dIkshitar uses this beautiful word in the anupallavi.

In the last line of the anupallavi, dIkshitar refers to the saints patanjali and vyAgrapAda and the famous event in which the Lord is known to have given darshan to these two divine souls with his foot raised, the same posture that is depicted in the form of the natarAja idol. Saint vyAgrapAda, as his name suggests, was a saint with tiger feet. He is known to have requested the Lord to grant him the feet of a tiger so that he can climb the foliage of big trees and bring back flowers from the tree tops and creepers to decorate the Lord and worship him. The Lord is supposed to have been so pleased with the saint's devotion that He chose to name this kSEtra itself as puliyUr ("tiger town") and in tamizh, the Lord Himself is referred to as "puliyUran". While the Lord is known to wear the tiger skin and this could be a possible explanation for "puliyUran", I find the vyAgrapAda reference to be more apt for this particular kSEtra. What more could the noble yogi saint have asked for with the Lord Himself being named after the devotee's tiger feet.

Musically, every phrase is a stamp of beauty beginning with the lilting gAndara usage at "kOTi" and the smooth pancama-shadja usage at "bhukti" followed by the "gmpnsnpmgrrs" at "daharAkASaM". The galloping cApu tALa's majestic gait is brought forth in its full grace in the madhyamakAla sAhityam. This, combined with the musical structure of the sAhityam traversing gently into the tAra stAyi and landing back in the madhya stAyi is just a stroke of genius and one that cannot be described in mere words and probably not even experienced in full when listened to. And then to top it off, dIkshitar has constructed beautiful soll-kattus to round off the anupallavi, completely in line with the theme of the dancing Lord at this divine kSEtra. The cApu's movement, the rAga's beauty and the soll-kattus rhythm all come together in an amalgamation of brilliance that can probably never again be constructed by a human. It is while listening to such beautiful things that one realizes how blessed this soul is to have even listened to and tried to comprehend the genius of dIkshitar. Salutations to the great master and his art.

With such a strong anupallavi, dIkshitar has to capitalize on the beautiful platform that he has built. And the edifice that he builds in the form of the caraNam is just outrageously gorgeous, the structure as beautiful as the physical gopUrams and the artwork in the temple itself.      


SItAMSu gangAdharaM nIlakandharaM
SrI kEdArAdi kSEtra AdhAram
bhUtESaM SArdUla carmAmbaraM cidambaraM
bhUsura tri-sahasra munISwaram viSvESwaram
navanIta hRdayaM sadaya guruguha tAtaM
AdyaM vEdavEdyaM vItarAgiNaM-
apramEyAdvaita pratipAdyaM
sangIta vAdya vinOdha tAndava-
jAta bahu-tara bhEda cOdyam


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the one wearing ("dharaM") the ganges and the moon ("SItAMSu") and the one with the blue neck ("nIlakandharaM"). He is the foundation ("AdhAram") of all sacred places ("kSEtra") beginning with the auspicious ("SrI") kEdAra. He is the Lord of all living beings and elements ("bhUta") and is the one whose dress ("ambaraM") is made out of tiger ("SArdUla") skin ("carma"). The one who dwells in cidambaraM, the ethereal medium of consciousness. He is the Lord ("ISwaram") of the three thousand ("tri-sahasra") Brahmin ("bhUsura") sages ("muni") and the Lord of the universe ("viSvESwaram")".

dIkshitar continues to portray the compassionate amsha of the Lord by describing Him as "the one whose heart ("hRdayaM") is as soft as fresh butter ("navanIta"), the ever-compassionate ("sadaya") father ("tAtaM") of Lord Guruguha. He is the primordial one ("AdyaM") and the one whose praises is sung ("vEdyaM") in the vEdas. The one who is free of all desires ("vItarAgiNaM"), immeasurable ("apramEya") and expounded ("pratipAdyaM") the monoism philosophy ("advaita")."

dIkshitar nicely rounds off the madhyamakAla sAhityam by describing the Lord as "the one who derives pleasure ("vinOdha") in music ("sangIta") and instruments ("vAdya") and the one whose cosmic dance ("tAndava") both causes ("jAta") and distinguishes ("bhEda") the various ("bahu-tara") questions ("cOdyam") (about life and beyond)".

After the soll-kattus and the dancing rhythm, dIkshitar does a complete volte-face as he re-establishes a complete state of calm and grace similar to the one observed in the pallavi. He begins with a calm, undulated pancamam at "sItAMSu" and continues to describe the Lord in line with the space theme. He refers to the Lord's blue-colored neck and thereby alluding to the color blue, which once again signifies space. dIkshitar establishes the importance of this great kSEtra as a saivite shrine by referring to the Lord natarAja at this temple to be the founding basis for all other shrines. It is indeed well-established in the scriptures that it is the divine cosmic dance of the Lord that built and sustains this whole universe. In the process, dIkshitar brilliantly slips in the rAga mudra and his genius is truly reiterated as he uses the beautiful "p-s" phrase while employing the rAga mudra itself. If I ever get the chance to meet the divine soul, right after prostrations, my first question to him would be how did he manage this ;(.

dIkshitar then goes on to showcase his grammatical skills as he plays with words. He uses the word "ambaram" consecutively in carmAmbaram and cidambaram, with the first ambaram referring to the tiger skin that the Lord wears while the latter reference alludes to the esoteric nature of the space that the Lord pervades. dIkshitar also brings in folklore while referring to the 3000 sages in the caraNam. Legend has it that 3000 sages left for cidambaram from Kailash and on reaching the destination, one was found missing. As confusion prevailed among the sages, the Lord Himself is known to have appeared and clarified that He was one of the 3000 in that group that left Kailash for He wanted to manifest Himself in the south in this great temple.

dIkshitar then brings in references to the Lord being the origin of the universe and how he symbolizes the advaita doctrines. It is quite touching and unexpected that the Lord also shows his merciful side at this shrine as dIkshitar invokes the "navanIta hRdaya" phrase to begin the madhyamakAla sAhityam. The last few lines of the caraNam are as esoteric as the space element itself that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. While it is clear that He rejoices in the divine sound of music, it is also equally true that the Lord actually used sound ("praNava mantra") and his divine damaru while dancing to actually create the universe and its beings. dIkshitar leaves the last few lines open to interpretation because he just describes the Lord's dance as a phenomenon that creates and answers all the questions. This is probably the cidambara rahasyam itself since he chooses not to clarify which are the particular questions he is referring to here. And dIkshitar embellishes the composition again with the beautiful soll-kattus in line with the cosmic dance itself. As I struggle for words to depict the beauty of this composition further, I also realize it is best left to the rasika to listen and drown himself in the sweet nectarine genius that this composition and dIkshitar is.

With this post, the pancabhuta linga series comes to an end. I hope I did decent justice to these magnificent compositions as each kriti in itself stands as five gopurams to attaining the Lord. The rich grandeur that these compositions compel are what makes these kritis stand the test of time and probably become more and more beautiful as we sing it everyday. I request all the artists out there to preserve these gems for posterity so that the genius of dIkshitar is witnessed and experienced for generations to come.

As I sign off, I don't know which composition to take up next. If there are any particular compositions that you would like to see here, please send me an e-mail. If I don't get any request as such, I will venture into some other beautiful piece based on my mood the next time I sit down and decide to blog :). I will probably try to make some quick, short posts to catch up with time that I have lost. Till then, have a divine, musical week ahead. shrI gurubhyO namaH           


Sunday, August 31, 2014

SrI kALahastISa - husAni

 I start this post with an apology to myself and the followers of this blog. An apology for having breached my 15 day per post deadline. With Diwali coming up, work has been quite hectic and I have also been occupied with numerous other things due to which, I have not been able to sit down and pen my thoughts. I need to make up for lost time and will try to publish two posts in quick succession to catch up.

Today, I had a wonderful time with one of cousins and her husband. We had such a great time that I wished we could've spent many more such afternoons and evenings together. It had a bit of everything - fun, laughter, music and of course, good food :). Anyway, now that we have realized how beautiful it is to spend time together, I am sure we will meet more often and enjoy good company and great food :).

Continuing with the pancabhuta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar, we will today look at the beautiful composition "SrI kALahastISa" in rAga husAni ("husEni" as its name has changed over time) where dIkshitar describes in detail, Lord Shiva embodying the primordial element of vAyu (Air). The significance of this temple is seen in the form of the lamp that endlessly flickers in the airless, almost-vacuum chamber thereby showing the presence of Lord Shiva in the form of air here. The first time I visited this temple, I had a pretty bad headache and we were in a rush on the way back from tirupati. But I still vividly remember the majestic white gopuram with the beautiful river swarnamukhi washing the walls of the temple and seeing this wonderful site, my headache disappeared in a fraction of a second.

The temple town and the Lord here derive their name after the staunch devotees, the spider (Sri), the snake (kAla) and the elephant (hasti) who according to folklore are supposed to have killed each other while demonstrating their great devotion for Lord Shiva. The Lord, having witnessed this, chose to grant them a boon of everlasting fame by merging their names with the vAyulinga at this temple. Even to this day, the symbols of these three devotees are seen on the linga at kAlahasti. Also, since the linga at this kSEtra is predominantly serpentine in shape, this shrine has been associated with performing rituals to get oneself rid of sarpa dosha by performing rAhu-kEtu puja.

The temple is also mentioned in all the tamil scriptures, with the first mentions dating back to the 1st century. The temple is also referred to as dakshin kailAsa and dIkshitar too alludes to this in the caraNam of this composition. In addition to this kriti, dIkshitar has also composed the beautiful samashti caraNam kriti "jnAnaprasUnAmbikE" in kalyANi studded with such brilliant phrases adorning the beautiful consort of Lord Shiva here.

Before I start the kriti, I thought I will make a small mention about the rAga husAni. It is usually treated as a sister rAga of the bhairavi-mukhAri system. However, there are many references to this rAga as Osani from even prior to the sangam era and this is quite evident in some of the sharp, folk-ish prayOgas of this rAga which probably makes it older than bhairavi. To further enhance the distinctions between these rAgas, the dIkshitar school clearly describes this rAga as a bhAshAnga janya of the 22nd mELakarta (shri rAgam) while bhairavi, mukhAri and even mAnji are delineated as bhAshAnga janya of the 20th mELakarta (nArirItigouLa). The rakti-ness of husAni are primarily attributed to the dIrgha madhyama and the nyAsa nishAda and the raga is usually established by characteristic phrases such as "rgMgrs", "ssppndm" and "pndns". All said, the beauty of a phrase-based rakti rAga such as husAni is to be experienced and probably not to be analyzed. The fact that dIkshitar chose a rAga such as husAni to sing the praises of the Lord at such an important saivite kSEtra speaks volumes about the popularity of this rAga in the good old times and the kriti today serves as a standing instruction for all students of music who would like to get a good glimpse about this beautiful rAga

Moving on to the composition, dIkshitar in his usual style embellishes this kSEtra with such brilliant play with the grammar and the language that one can only admire the genius at work and enjoy the brilliance. He steps it up stone by stone as he moves through the composition. In the pallavi, he clearly sets the context, the location and the vAyulinga reference. In the anupallavi, he describes the esoteric significance of the temple and in the process, beautifully weaving in the rAga mudra. Finally, in the caraNam, he makes references to the temple folklore, the Lord's consort, some more interesting play with the words and finishes off with the mention of the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr. All this while the composition smoothly flows along in jhampa tALa. The pallavi goes like,


SrI kALahastISa SritajanAvana samIrAkAra
mAm pAhi rAjamauLE Ehi


dIkshitar starts off the composition by clearly establishing the kSEtra and cries out "Oh Lord of kALahasti!, the Lord in the form of wind ("samIra" + "AkAra") and the one who protects those who take refuge in Him ("Srita jana"), please protect me ("mAm pAhi"), the one who wears the moon ("rAjamauLE").

In his typical clear and succinct way, dIkshitar brings forth the name of the kSEtra and the form of the Lord in this abode. He clearly establishes that this is a pancabhuta sthala and what makes it interesting is his choice of words. He never uses the term vAyulinga in the kriti even though he refers to the primordial elements on quite a few occasions. This is where dIkshitar's stature as a grammatical genius comes forth. He uses the word "samIra" for "wind" to preserve the adyAkshara prAsam in the pallavi. And perhaps the most beautiful part of the kriti is the "Ehi" which he employs to round off the pallavi. The lilting "rgMgrs" is so soothing that it caresses the listener like a peacock feather. To add to this, the "Ssndnp" phrase at "AkAra" and the usage of the corresponding symmetric samvAdi phrase "Ppmgrs" at "pAhi" makes the pallavi in itself a strong decoction with the full flavor of husAni on display. Moving on to the anupallavi


pAkAri vidhi hari prANa-maya kOSAnilAkASa-
bhUmi salilAgni prakASa Siva


dIkshitar describes the Lord as "the vital life force ("prANa-maya kOSa") of Lord Indra ("pAka" +"ari" = Enemy of pAka), Brahma ("vidhi") and Vishnu ("hari")". He continues to address the Lord as "the one who illumines ("prakASa") the five elements, wind ("anil"), ether ("AkASa"), earth ("bhUmi"), water ("salila") and fire ("agni")".

Clearly, the highlight of the anupallavi is the great master's use of vocabulary while referring to the five elements, once again using "anil" to refer to "wind" and in the process embedding the rAga mudra at k"OSAni"l. What can one say about such brilliance except just surrender and enjoy. Once again, look at the careful use of words- clearly cherry-picked by dIkshitar's brilliant mind. Using pAkAri and prANa to keep the prAsa in tact.

Musically, he starts off the anupallavi with the "Pdpmgrs" and goes into the tAra sthAyi with "rgmgrs" at "bhUmi". The DKJ version of the kriti beautifully brings out all the different possible sangatis and is definitely a treat to listen to. Now that the significance of the kSEtra is established, dIkshitar moves on to describe the other aspects of the Lord in the caraNam.


jnAna prasUnAmbikApatE bhaktAbhimAna-
dakshiNa kailAsa vAsAbhishTa dAna-
caturatarAbja dIna karuNAnidhE
sUna sara sUdanAjnAna hara paSupatE
jnAnaguruguha saccidAnanda-maya mUrtE
hIna jAti kirAtakEna pUjita kIrtE


dIkshitar begins the caraNam by referring to the Lord as "the Lord of His consort, jnAnaprasUnAmbikA and the one who is dear to all his devotees ("bhaktAbhimAna")". He brings in reference to the kSEtra once again by referring to the Lord as "the one whose abode ("vAsa") is dakshiNa kailAsa". dIkshitar then moves on to the describe the merciful and compassionate side of the Lord by describing Him as "the one whose lotus hands ("caturatara"+"abja") grants ("dAna") the desired boons ("abhishTa") and the one who is an ocean of mercy and compassion ("karuNAnidhE") to the helpless ("dIna")".

dIkshitar then continues to describe the Lord as "the one who destroyed ("sUdana") cupid, the one who bears arrows of flowers ("sUna sara") and the Lord of all beings ("paSupatE") who removes ignorance ("ajnAna" + "hara"). The one who signifies knowledge ("jnAna") in the form of Lord Guruguha and the embodiment of truth, bliss and consciousness ("saccidAnanda")".

dIkshitar concludes the composition by paying rich tribute to the great devotee kannappa nAyanAr by referring to the Lord as "the one who is famous ("kIrtE") for having been worshipped ("pUjita") by a low-caste ("hIna jAti") hunter ("kirAtaka")." 

The consort jnAnaprasUnAmbika  as Her name indicates is known to be the mother who makes knowledge ("jnAna") blossom ("prasUna") in an individual. dIkshitar again shows his brilliance with words in the caraNam at two places. First, he refers to the Lord's act of burning manmatha with his third eye and to describe this incident, he literally uses "flowery language" by referring to the cupid carrying a quiver full of flower-arrows :). Once again, the choice of words is what keeps the tempo and momentum of the song building up to the crescendo. Second, dIkshitar uses the words oxymoronic words "ajnAna" and "jnAna" almost back to back, with the latter reference being to the incident where Lord guruguha becomes swAminAtha and explains the import of the praNava mantra to Lord Shiva Himself. This very beautifully adds to the rhythm and builds on to the madhyamakAla sAhityam.

dIkshitar finishes off the kriti in style. He pays probably the biggest tribute that any devotee would've attained by referring to kannappa nAyanAr in the final line of the composition. As the story goes, kannappa was a hunter who used to worship the Lord at kALahasti with staunch devotion. One day, he noticed that there was blood oozing out of the Lord's eyes on the linga. Without flinching, he plucked his own eye out with an arrow and placed it on the lingam's eyes. The next day, he noticed that the lingam's other eye had also started bleeding and being the supreme devotee that he was, he was about to pluck his other eye and cover the Lord's bleeding eye when Lord Shiva Himself appeared and restored his eyesight and rewarded him for his staunch devotion by granting him boons and later, the nAyanAr status.

If you look closely, dIkshitar refers to the Lord of having got famous because of the great devotee and not the other way around. How else could have anyone paid a richer tribute to the great kannappa nAyanAr? The other day, I had an argument with one of my friends when he accused of dIkshitar being a racist for using words like "hIna jAti" in this kriti, "Arya vamsajAta tUrya jAti" in the kriti "pAhi mAm ratnAcala nAyaka" and "vaisya jAti strI vESa dharaNam" in "shri mAtrubhUtam". While superficially, it does look as if dIkshitar uses racist remarks, you will always notice that he uses it in all these kritis to bring out the fact that the Lord is completely indifferent to the concept of castes and that true devotion is actually way beyond the societal caste structures. So, actually, dIkshitar was a secularist even back in those times and was trying to promote the greatness achieved by these members of the so-called other/lower castes. I still haven't convinced my friend completely but at least managed to get the "racist" tag removed with my arguments :).

I guess that's enough said about this brilliant composition. I would sincerely urge rasikas to listen to both the DKJ's as well as the more SSP-centric TMK's version of this kriti. Both are beautiful in their own way, the former purely because of the variety of sangatis and the latter more because of the interesting prayOgas and the completely different flavor of husAni that TMK's version brings forth. Would be more than happy to share the links if you are not able to find these recordings yourselves.

I will try to make up for lost time by starting to work on the final kriti of the pancabhuta linga series today itself. "Ananda natana prakASam" describing the ethereal cosmic dance in the mellifluous kEdAram rAga concludes this series at the Chidambaram temple. So, come join me next time as we continue to explore these beautiful compositions together. Till then, keep listening to good music and please share with me your thoughts and suggestions. shrI gurubhyO namah!!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

aruNAcalanAtham smarAmi - sArangA

And so I am back with yet another post, continuing to write about the majestic pancabhUta linga kritis of shri muthuswAmi dIkshitar. Last couple of weeks have been filled with a bit of travel and a lot of good music, two brilliant concerts to be specific. I was fortunate enough to listen to an amazing concert by shri Vijay Shiva last Sunday. A very interesting concoction of rAga choices (kalyANi, abhEri and an absolutely mind-blowing virutham) and brilliant accompaniments made the concert a memorable one. It had such an impact on me that the music was ringing in my ears and haunting me for the next 3 days. The very next day I was immersed further in musical brilliance through Sanjay sir's concert. Curiously, he too chose abhEri and the "nagumomu"s on both days took me time-travelling back to the Golden recordings of the 50's and 60's. He also sang kAdambari priyAyai in mOhanam and the kamalAmba navAvarNam in Shankarabharanam and being a guruguha maniac, I couldn't have asked for a better treat :).

I also reconnected with a couple of my old school and music friends over the last two weeks and I am slowly but surely re-establishing the connections that I have lost over the years (for no reason). After a long time, I have begun to feel the vibrant vitality in my life that went missing after I relocated to India in 2009 (again, for no reason).

Before I jump into the composition, as always, I would like to set the context, giving a few insights about the temple, its folklore and its significance. The tiruvannamalai temple town itself is perhaps one of a kind with the divine vibrations that gives the devotee goosebumps. The huge temple complex with its four towering gopurams is set in the foothills of aNNAmalai hills, the mountain in itself being worshipped as an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva is worshipped as "agni lingam" and the main deities are aruNAcalEswarar and Goddess apitakucAmba (unnAmalai in tamizh). According to mythology, Goddess pArvati is known to have closed Lord Shiva's eyes with her hands (playfully) in Kailash and at that moment, the whole universe went devoid of light and was submerged in darkness. The Goddess is supposed to have performed a penance, following which Lord Shiva took the form of a column of fire atop the aNNAmalai hills and thereby returning light to the world.

Also, the other famous version of the origin of this temple is that when the trinity of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma were trying to establish their supremacy, Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a column of fire and challenged Vishnu and Brahma to find the source of the fire. While Brahma took the form of a swan and flew towards the sky in search of the source of the flame, Vishnu took the form of a board and went underneath. Neither were successful and while Vishnu accepted defeat, Brahma is supposed to have lied to Shiva and said that he had indeed found the source of the fire. Shiva is known to have punished him for this lie and cursed him to not have any temples for his worship.

Hence, the amsha that Lord Shiva embodies at tiru aNNamalai is fire. His resplendent form dispels darkness and drives away ignorance. The power of the Lord here is indeed well documented in the form of so many yogis and great saints who have attained moksha at tiru aNNAmalai. Saint ramaNa maharishi is the foremost of these noble souls and the cave in which he meditated and his beautiful ashram in the foothills are a must visit for every human being. The temple gets mention in all the old scriptures, notably in tEvAram and all the works of appar, sundarar and mANikkavAcakar. Regardless to say, this is one of the most significant shrines for all Saivites and is also deeply associated with the astral body of the human anatomy, especially the third chakra, manipura located in the solar plexus. It is one of the most important chakras and is probably the most difficult to surpass. The tatwa element governing this chakra is fire and signifies itcha Shakti, hence it is believed that by meditating on Lord Shiva in the agni form, this chakra can be easily activated and help the spiritual seeker to progress much faster as his kundalini unwinds.

To do justice to such a major kSEtra, dIkshitar uses sArangA, a mellifluous yet majestic rAga. This kriti is such a jewel that the rAga itself will be proud of the way that it can mend and dIkshitar being the genius he is, uses the phrases beautifully, lilting along in rUpaka tALa and creating a magnificent sculpture in the process, a sculpture that defies time. The structure itself is so beautiful with the pallavi being a prayer, the anupallavi describing the Lord and the temple and caraNam extolling the greatness of the agni lingam and the spiritual significance of the Lord at this kSEtra. The kriti starts as:


aruNAcala nAthaM smarAmi aniSaM
apIta kucAmba samEtam


dIkshitar sings "I always ("aniSaM") meditate ("smarAmi") upon Lord of aruNAcala, the one who is along with his consort ("samEtam") apIta kucAmba".

The pallavi is very simple yet very, very beautiful. dIkshitar makes things very clear as to which Lord this composition is dedicated to and who is the Goddess. He defines the kSEtra and pretty much doesn't talk about anything else in the opening few lines of the kriti. The word aruNAcala itself means the "mountain of fire" or "red (aruna) mountain (acala)" and I don't think there could have been a better word to describe the presence of Lord Shiva as an embodiment of fire residing in this mountain.

Musically, the beauty of rUpaka tALa is what stands out in this pallavi. It flows along with the words, adding more beauty to the sAhitya and kind of weaves in along with the rAga flow. The "rrgmp" start at "aruNA" followed by the very sArangA-ish "dnsDpp" at "nAtham" and the beautiful characteristic avarOhaNam phrase "sndpmrgmrs" being used as it is at "smarAmi" shows the brilliance of dIkshitar as a musical genius who just captures the essence of such a phrase-based rAga in the first three words of his kriti. He not only establishes the rAga but also kind of sets the tone for exploring beyond the typical prayOgams of the rAga with having finished off the basics in the pallavi itself.

Having started off quite simple, he moves on to the anupallavi to dive deeper in describing the Lord and continuing to explore the nuances of the rAga


smaraNAt kaivalya prada caraNAravindaM
taruNAditya kOTi saMkASa cidAnandaM
karuNA rasAdi kandaM SaraNAgata surabRndam


dIkshitar describes the power of the Lord as "The one with the lotus feet ("caraNa"+"aravindam"), just the thought of which ("smaraNAt") bestows ("prada") salvation ("kaivalya"). The one who is the embodiment of pure bliss consciousness ("cidAnandam") and the one who is as resplendent as a million ("kOTi") young ("taruNa") suns ("Aditya"). The one who is the root ("kandam") of the essence ("rasa") of all mercy ("karuNA") and the one unto whom hordes ("bRndam") of celestials ("sura") surrender ("SaraNAgata")".

The first thing that strikes the listener is perhaps the grammar and the rhythm that dIkshitar manages to blend into the composition by starting off the anupallavi with "smaraNAt". It rhymes with the "aruNA" in the pallavi and sets the platform for him to use the subsequent words in the anupallavi such as "taruNA, karuNA and caraNA". Perhaps the greatest beauty of his compositions are the way he uses yati and mOnai and it doesn't feel like he is trying to force-fit anything into the grammatical structural discipline but rather, it just flows and blends so coherently that any other word in something's place will just destroy the beauty completely.

dIkshitar again emphasizes on the Shakti of the Lord at this kSEtra and His ability to grant salvation to the ones who meditate upon him. Great saints such as shri ramaNa are testimony to this. dIkshitar also uses a beautiful volte-face in the anupallavi. Even though the kriti is about the Lord being in an agni form (which signifies energy and ugra), he describes the Lord as an ocean of compassion by bringing in karuNA rasa.

Musically, my favorite part of the anupallavi is the beautiful gamaka-laden "ppmpdnsrsdp" at "tarunAditya". It just melts the listener's heart and is a joy to sing/play. He rounds it off very nicely with "pmDpm rgmrs" at "SaraNAgata surabRndam" looping back to the rishabha start for the pallavi. Moving on to the caraNam,


aprAkRta tEjOmaya lingaM
adyAdbhuta karadhRta sAraNgaM
apramEyaM aparNAbja bhRngaM
ArUDhottunga vRsha turangaM
viprOttama viSEshAntarangaM
vIra guruguha tAraprasangaM
svapradIpa mauli vidhRta gangaM
svaprakASa jita sOmAgni patangam


dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the effulgent ("tEjOmaya") lingam which does not have a beginning ("aprAkRta") and the one who wields a deer ("sAraNgam") in his wonderful ("adyAdbhuta") hands ("kara"). The one who is immeasurable ("apramEyam") and the one who hovers over the lotus (pArvati) ("aparNa"+"abja") like a bee ("bhRngam"). The one mounts ("ArUDhottunga") the sacred bull ("vRsha") as his vehicle ("turangam")".

The madhyamakAla sAhityam beautifully gallops along as the composer continues to describe the Lord as "the one who is the superior special ("viSEsha") inner conscience ("antarangam") of the scholarly and the learned ("vipra") and the one who is dear to the valorous ("vIra") Lord Karthikeya ("guruguha"), the one who explained the praNava mantra ("prasangaM"). The self-luminous one ("sva"+"pradIpa") who wears ("vidhRta") the Ganges ("gangam") and the moon ("mauli") on his head. The one whose luster ("prakASa") is superior to ("jita") to the moon ("sOma"), the fire ("agni") and the sun ("patangam")".

The caraNam is actually pretty simple (grammatically as well as musically) for a dIkshitar kriti and that too, being a pancabhUta linga kriti. He describes the "immeasurable nature" of the lingam and also the resplendence of the Lord in this form to be superior to all sources of light (sun, moon, stars and fire) that humans are usually exposed to. dIkshitar also brilliantly employs the rAga mudra by referring to the physical design of the Lord at this kSEtra and brings in the composer mudra by referring to Lord subraHmaNya as the one who expounded the praNava to His father.

He starts off the caraNam with a sedate "sPmp" at "aprAkRta" and slowly builds up through the Madhya stAyi entering into the tAra stAyi with the rishabha at "bhRngam". The flat madhyama usage at "apramEya" and the "sndnsrssdp" at "ArUDhottunga" are special phrases that embellish the composition and the rAga so beautifully. And to top it off, the crescendo in the madhyamakAla sAhitya with phrases such as "psDpmp" at "svaprakAsa jita" and "Dpmrgmrs" at "sOmAgni patangam" which brings in symmetry is probably what makes the kriti a masterpiece. More than me describing it, listen to the recording of Hyderabad Brothers or DKJ sir uploaded at to fully experience the beauty and brilliance of this composition.

As we continue our journey through the pancabhUta linga kritis, our next stop will be the brilliant composition in rAga husEni (or huSAni as it was called in the olden days) "shrI kALahastIsha" extolling the greatness of the mystical "vAyulinga" at kALahasti. This is probably the kriti where dIkshitar steps it up one big notch as he moves into the more abstract elemental forms of air and space(ether). I will aim to publish the post as soon as possible and try to wrap up the series by end of this month. Before I sign off, I would like to thank all the rasikas who have been sending me mails, suggestions and supporting me with their words of encouragement :). With all your support and the blessings of God and gurus, I am sure I will continue to share my thoughts on these amazing compositions by probably the greatest treasures that mankind has witnessed till date. Until next time, keep drowning in the ocean of music. Ciao!!  


Sunday, July 27, 2014

jambUpatE - yamunA kalyANi

Before I even start, I would like to emphatically state that I am back. This is actually a statement, a reminder to myself that I can't let this blog be dormant any more. I know I have made this resolution to myself many times before (and even declared so on this blog space) but have sadly not been able to keep my word. I think I have finally found a sweet spot in my life, a balance, which is going to ensure that I keep all my fronts active and full of vitality. So, you might ask "What has changed?", to which my reply would be "Nothing Much" except that I have learnt to adopt a new view on life. I was also reading my own posts over the last couple of days and it has definitely rekindled the fire to share my thoughts on this forum and continue my humble attempt at explaining art as I see it.

And what has changed over the last one year since I posted here? I have definitely grown older, thankfully, no grey hair yet (or at least, I haven't seen it yet) and have also realized that age is just a number and that I am as youthful as ever :). Personal life has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster with quite a few things not going as I would have liked them to but am sure things are going to get sorted out over the course of this year.

And before I jump into this post, I would like to dedicate this post to a very good friend of mine. She has been running a music school for the past 15 years and is celebrating the commemoration today. This composition also happens to be one of her favorites and this post is my gift to her on this wonderful day. May she continue her yeoman service to the divine art and may God and gurus shower her with all the love and blessings.

To summarize in a sentence, jambUpatE is a majestic composition describing the attributes and praising the greatness of Lord Shiva  at the jambukEshwara temple in tiruvAnaikkAval, displaying the amsha of water element. dIkshitar beautifully employs the carnati-cised version of the Hindustani rAga yaman kalyAn and embellishes the kriti with phrases which only he could have construed. TiruvAnaikkAval is a small town near the more popular vaishnavite temple town, Srirangam. I have had the privilege of visiting this shrine a couple of times during my Engineering days at Trichy and the town is serene and has a very calm atmosphere with river kAvEri flowing through it. Apart from the temple, the town is also famous because it is the birth place of Sir C.V. Raman and quite a few visitors throng his ancestral home.

According to temple folklore, this town used to be a jambu tree forest and under one of the trees, Lord Shiva took the form of a lingam (swayambu). Two of Shiva's gaNAs were cursed and born as an elephant and a spider in this forest. The elephant used to bring water and clean the lingam and decorate with flowers while the spider spun a web directly above the lingam to prevent leaves and dirt from falling on it. By serving the Lord thus, the two souls got salvation and the place itself derives its name from this (tiru+Anai+kAval). The Lord's consort at this kSEtra is Goddess akhilANDESwari and gets a special mention in the composition. The Shiva lingam itself is situated on top of a stream of fresh water and water gushes all over and around the lingam in the sanctum sanctorum clearly establishing this as the "water lingam" signifying the pancabhUta element . I still vividly remember the goose bumps I got when I saw this on my first visit there. The main prAkAram around the temple also has channels cut on the floor with fresh streams of water visible all over the temple complex and washing the pilgrim's feet soothingly as one walks around.

A temple as significant as this deserves a composition that is rich and unfathomable in depth (just like the water and the Lord Himself) and dIkshitar does much more than just that. Being the brilliant genius that he is, dIkshitar aptly chooses yamunA kalyANI, the raga name itself derived from the name of a river. He also creates a framework revolving around references to liquids (nectar, ocean, rivers) highlighting the water element and creates a composition that in itself is so lucid and free-flowing that leaves both the listener as well as the singer in a state of profound stillness and joy that can only be described by experiencing it. He begins to sing:


jambUpatE mAm pAhi nijAnanda amritabOdham dEhi


dIkshitar cries out "Oh Lord ("patE") of the rose apple tree ("jambU") grove, protect ("pAhi") me ("mAm"). Bestow upon me ("dEhi"), the awakening nectar ("amrita"+"bodham") of true, undiminished bliss/happiness ("nija"+"Ananda")"

One has to clearly observe how dIkshitar carefully cherry-picks each and every word that he wants to use in his compositions. In the very first word of the kriti itself he clearly sets the context that this composition is to describe the deity at tiruvAnaikkA. The word itself describes the folklore of the place and the history. dIkshitar also clearly sings on behalf of every pilgrim, so that every time any true devotee sings the pallavi, the Lord wakes up and listens to his/her's request for the nectar of bliss.

Musically too, the pallavi sets the steady dhrupad-style gait of the kriti in tisra Ekam (become rUpakam over time). A simple "pmpgmp" to begin "jambu" followed by "mpdpmg" with a sphurita gamakam at "patE" clearly makes for a rousing start and makes a person take notice and sit up immediately. The lilting prayOgams at "pAhi" followed again by a "sphurita fall" at "nija" is caressing and is of the highest level of yamunA kalyANi usage. "Ananda" acts as a bridge to scale up to the higher octave and provides the right platform for a beautiful "r s" prayogam at amrita"bo"dham. But clearly the cherry on the cake is the "sddnp" at "dEhi" and with that prayOgam, the master seals the deal to make the pallavi perhaps in itself, a self-sustaining representation of this beautiful rAga.

The goosebumps continue into the anupallavi, by the end of which, I have seen quite a few even cry tears of joy and bliss. I guess the kriti itself is an "amrita" of "nijAnanda".


ambujAsanAdi sakala dEva namana tumburu nuta hRdayatApOpaSamana
ambudhi ga.NgA kAvEri yamunA kambukaNThyakhilANDESwari ramaNa


 After setting the context beautifully in the pallavi, dIkshitar continues to strengthen the description of the Lord and brings in references to all the water bodies that signify the pancabhUta element of water. He describes the Lord as "The one worshipped and prayed to ("namana") by Lord Brahma, the one seated on the lotus ("ambujAsana") and all other Gods ("sakala dEva"). The one whose praises were sung by ("nuta") the celestial musician "tumburu" and the one who removes the afflictions ("tApa") of the devotees heart ("hRdaya")".

He continues to describe the Lord as "the embodiment of the sea ("ambudhi") and the rivers Ganga, Kaveri and Yamuna" and as "the one who is the beloved ("ramaNa") of Goddess akhilANDESwari, the one with a conch-like neck ("kambu"+"kaNTha")".

In the anupallavi, the first thing to notice is the poetic yati and prAsa usages. The usage of "ambuja" and "ambudhi" and of course the link to the beginning of the pallavi itself "jambu" clearly shows dIkshitar's mastery over the language. In the second line, he also beautifully establishes the kSEtra's significance as the pancabhUta sthalam for water and describes the Lord Himself as the ocean and the arterial, divine rivers of the country. In the process, he brilliantly slips in the rAga mudra "yamunA" without any effort. He finishes off the anupallavi by referring to the main Goddess of the shrine and with that, he completes the entire setting of the temple, its main deities, significance as the pancabhUtasthalam and the folklore of the town. The pallavi and anupallavi hence in all sense complete the kriti and it would have been perfectly fine had dIkshitar ended this kriti as a samASTi caraNam.

Some of my favorite phrases in the anupallavi are the usage of both the madhyamams at "namana" (listen to a DKJ version to experience the beauty of this) and the smooth transition from the shadja in madhya stAyi to the shadja in tAra stAyi at "ambudhi" and the sphurita embellished "gmr" at "ga.Nga". Finally, the looping "ramaNa" beautifully cascading to join back into jambUpatE is yet another brilliant usage of the rAga prayOgams that is mind-blowing.

Lyrically, musically and descriptively, the pallavi and anupallavi by themselves paint a comprehensive picture of what needs to be conveyed. Probably the only reason to even have a caraNam is the guruguha mudra. But then again, after listening to the caraNam, one would thank dIkshitar for continuing the composition because the caraNam just takes the kriti to a completely different stratosphere and distinguishes the composition as probably "THE kriti in yamunA kalyANi"      


parvatajA prArthitAbli.Nga vibhO pancabhUtamaya prapanca prabhO
sarvajIva dayAkara shambhO sAmajATavInilaya svayambhO
Sarva karunA sudhA sindhO SaraNAgata vatsalArtabandhO
anirvacanIya nAdabindO nitya moulividhRta ga.NgEndO
nirvikalpaka samAdi niShTa Siva kalpakatarO
nirviSESha caitanya nira.Njana guruguha gurO


dIkshitar continues to describe the Lord as "the resplendent one ("vibhO") who was worshipped by ("prArthita") Goddess pArvati, the one born of a mountain ("parvata"+"jA"). The Lord ("prabhO") of the universe ("prapanca") who is an embodiment of the five elements ("pancabhUta"+"maya")".

dIkshitar addresses the Lord as "the source of happiness ("shambhO") and the one who shows compassion ("dayAkara") on all creatures ("sarvajIva")". He again brings in the reference to the temple town formerly being a forest filled with elephants ("sAmajAtavi") and describes the linga as "one which originated by itself ("svayambhO")". He continues to portray the soothing and loving nature of the Lord here (in line with the nature of the water element) and describes Him as "the nectarous river ("sudhA sindhO") of mercy ("Sarva karunA")" and "the dearest ("vatsala") kin ("bandhO") of the devotees who completely surrender unto him ("SaraNAgata")".

Building up to the final crescendo for the composition he sings "the one who is the unfathomable, indescribable ("anirvacanIya") omkAra, the sound ("nAda") from which the universe originated ("bindO") and the one who always ("nitya") wears on his head ("vidhRta") the crescent ("mouli") and Ganges".

Finally, in the madhyamakAla sAhitya, he describes the Lord as "One who is forever in the state of absolute nothingness, a samAdi state in which one completely loses self-consciousness ("nirvikalpa") and one who is a wish-yielding tree ("kalpakatarO") in communion ("niShTa") with the auspicious energy of Siva. The one who is pure consciousness ("caitanya") without any distinguishable attributes ("nirviSESha") and the one from whom originated ("gurO") the pristine/spotless ("nira.Njana") Lord Guruguha".

One can only heave a sigh of astonishment after going through that caraNam. It is undoubtedly a great piece of art which I hope the generations to come preserve for posterity. dIkshitar has thrown in a bit of everything, ranging from pure references to other Gods and Goddesses to allusion to consciousness and samAdi. The antyAkSara prAsa running throughout the caraNam with each sentence ending with "O" sets an automatic rhythm to the composition itself. Finally, the madhyamakAla sAhitya is a masterpiece filled with lyrical and musical beauty. Since I find it almost impossible to explain the beauty in words, I would urge the rasika to listen to the kriti and just experience the brilliance of this composition. Though I would like to write about the caraNam more in detail, most of the things will end up being superfluous and hence I stop here.

In my next post, I will continue to expound the pancabhUta linga kritis with the composition "aruNAcalanAtham" in raga sAra.Nga. Composed at tiruvannAmalai, where Lord Shiva resides in the form of agni (fire),  this is yet another masterpiece from the brilliant composer. I just have a request for the followers of this blog. If you find henceforth that I don't post anything new within 15 days, request you to please send me a mail at so that I don't slack anymore and continue to do what I believe I do well, which is, sharing my thoughts here on these brilliant masterpieces. Till then, keep listening to good music and have a brilliant week ahead. shrI gurubhyO namaH.